By Kyle Roberts
It’s nice to be number one entering the postseason.
With the LHSAA renewing the same playoff rules from last season, the 2023 Ruston Bearcats, 10-0 for the first time since 1990’s national championship season, were able to rest and restore last night rather than grind out another game on the gridiron.
And now, they know for sure who they will face Friday night at “The Hoss”: the No. 16 Westgate High School Tigers out of New Iberia, La., who just defeated the Terrebonne High Tigers out of Houma, La.
“Westgate is no stranger to this position in the playoffs,” Ruston High head coach Jerrod Baugh said. “They will come to Ruston ready to play, and we need to get prepared to play a really good football team.”
Even with the bye, work didn’t stop this week for Baugh and company. The players and staff still maintained as much as a rhythm and schedule as possible with practice and walkthroughs all week as normal.
“We came in Monday after taking the weekend off,” Baugh said of his team following the Bearcats exciting win over West Monroe Friday night to secure the district title. “We watched video the entire time of the West Monroe game. It gave the team four days with no physical activity to try to get their legs back up and get ready for the playoff run. And then we came back (Wednesday). We listed weights and watched some video and did some situational practice.
“It was pretty good having that many days off and then getting back into it. I think it was good to get their brains back going on football and what we need to focus on.”
And because Ruston did not exactly know who they would be playing this past week, the Bearcats were able to refocus and work on some things they need to shore up regardless of opponent.
“The way that I look at it, and it’s an opportunity for us to go back and work on some things,” Baugh said. “You don’t have to worry about getting prepared for an opponent. So it’s going to give us that opportunity to be able to go back and practice some of those things that maybe you wouldn’t. I think we’re going to make the most of what our week is.”
Part of securing the overall top seed came last Friday with a win in Rebel Stadium. And while fans are rightfully celebrating Ruston’s second consecutive district title, Baugh said the team will remain focused on the plan for a long playoff run into New Orleans.
“We’ll celebrate it at the end of the year,” Baugh said of the district championship. “I think the kids have handled all of that really well. I think they were excited after the ball game on Friday. And they seem really even-keeled about about that (since then). I was really pleased with that. It’s a very big accomplishment. But I think they understand that they’re wanting some things past that. And so I think they put that to bed a fairly quickly.
“And like I said about the West Monroe deal, not that it’s not a big deal to beat them after all of these years, but I think our kids and coaches for sure have kind of put that deal to bed. That’s not nearly as big of a thing as what it was built up to be previously. Hopefully, from year to year to year, that can kind of dissipate as it as it goes on. I mean, it’ll still be a big ball game. All I mean, I don’t foresee them falling off the map as far as being a good football team, but I think we can move around where West Monroe was just another good football team that we have to get prepared to play, and that’s where we need it to be.”